So, I wandered into Google's headquarters, and after misrepresenting Cracked's reputation within the blind community a little bit, I was granted an opportunity to "test drive" the new gCar. Outside I met Jeff, a Googler who'd been working on the project, and who would be accompanying me on the test drive. After going through the various safety precautions -- we would not, it seemed, be doing any Tokyo drifting on this test -- he showed me to the gCar.
The gCar is a modified Toyota Prius, with a variety of additional sensors placed on and around the car to allow it to sense and not slam into its environment. "Can it detect things that it could slam into that deserve it?" I asked, only getting a laugh in response. "Yes," I noted down carefully in my notebook, then approached the car warily from the side. Inside, all of the regular car-ish controls work normally, and can override the gCar's programming at any time. There was also a kill switch mounted in the central console, which was able to shut the car off entirely. "Does it feel any pain?" earned another laugh. Already I was beginning to worry about whether Google was taking this stuff seriously enough.
We began our test drive, driving around the surface streets near Google's headquarters. Initially, the drive was, incredibly, boringly safe. My ass falls asleep just thinking about it. Imagine a perfectly ordinary mom driving, with no neutral drops, or flying off dirt ramps, or getting into scrapes with corrupt small town sheriffs, or anything. We went through a Burger King drive-thru in the most uneventful way possible, with none of the paint scraping, suspension damaging, swear-filled histrionics that normally accompany such trips.
"YES I WILL HAVE EIGHT KETCHUPS YOU SON OF A BITCH."
Bored, and getting that familiar post-BK suicidal feeling, I tried experimenting with the limits of the car, flicking the steering wheel in random directions. The car always relinquished control to me as soon as I touched the wheel, even allowing me to menace lampposts and swerve into oncoming lanes. "I'm surprised it lets me do that," I said to Jeff.
"It will let you be as stupid as you want to be," Jeff said, knuckles white on his laptop. "Please stop being so stupid, incidentally."
"So it doesn't have, like, a self-preservation instinct?"
"Because you know that's how I think Skynet got started."
"We know. That's why we didn't put a self-preservation instinct in there."
I considered that. "Also because it's really hard?"
"Also that." Jeff tapped at something on the laptop, possibly telling the gCar that I was on to it. "No, we've seen all the shows where the robot's self-preservation instincts make it destroy its makers. The Terminator. Those nine or 10 Star Trek episodes ..."